I walk a dog named Lily on the weekends. It has become a habit.
Lily lives two hours south of me, with her family, in a small coastal town predominantly inhabited with fishermen, their families, or descendants of their families.
Lily is a Labrador, and on our walks I find this town likes Labradors. Lily is the prettiest. Still, Lily likes to pee. A lot. As though she’s queen here, which she is, likely, at least in her brain, and she and I take the world in on our walks. Both of us seem more alive when we’re eyes-open, noses-alive moving. Sometimes I can even imagine I am her and she is me, and voila, we’re the same. We’re talking to each other.
Yesterday evening we went out at sunset with the breeze blowing hard and the trees quivering. Afterward I went out to dinner, and when Lily’s official lover, Stephen, brought me home, she could tell I was tired. That my legs were creaky and I was ready for bed.
Where have you been? she said.
“We just saw a road accident, Lil,” I said to her.
“Let’s go upstairs,” I said aloud. “Com’on, girl.”
She padded up the stairs as softly as ever, and I thought about the man in the accident, how he’d climbed out the opposite side of his truck, come around the back and shielded his eyes against our car’s bright lights. He staggered to the roadside and I couldn’t tell—was this drunkenness or pain? Beer cans were spilled across the asphalt. Like they’d fallen from his truck bed. I couldn’t tell if they were empty or full.
A woman came out in her bathrobe, kneeled down beside him, and rubbed his leg to calm him, and I wondered for a second if she was a Christian, or if she just had a soft heart. I wondered if the man was ashamed, or if he had a headache, or if he didn’t know what to think. Seeing the man, and the policeman walk up to him, very calmly—as though this had happened before—was difficult. Watching the scene unfold, slowly, not on a movie screen but with real people making real mistakes—or suffering consequences, unfair or not—made me realize how much I can’t hide. Life happened, in front of me. And I sat there as though I was numb.
A photo was in the paper that same morning, a pretty horrible one. Maybe you’ve seen it? Two adults, slumped in their seats from overdosing on opioids. A kid was in the backseat, looking on. It was a hard picture. Reality-smacking.
So. I was thinking about a lot when we came upon the accident, but I was trying not to think, as I fell asleep, all alone. Lily had decided not to join me on the bed.
I miss her when she’s gone.
This morning I tied the rope around her collar with a slip knot and we trotted across the road. On our walk we saw quite a number of things: an apple tree with lots of crushed apples below it, a beer can, a few dead Ammi, and a long row of rose hips on some Ocean Rugosa. When we came around the harbor loop, our friend Greg passed us, got out of his car in his boots and sweater and jeans, said hello to Lil, and went on down the hill. Greg is a fisherman, I guess. Though I can’t quite remember. He was dressed like it.
We like taking the harbor loop, Lily and I. We pass by the lobster boats, and the traps in the lawn by the wharf. This morning a fellow dragged a barrel across the dock and looked pretty tired, but it was just six thirty. He was just starting his day. Lily didn’t see him, but I bet she could smell him.
Slow down, she said. She was sniffing a spot.
“Com’on, girl,” I said, pulling her rope. “Let’s go.”
I’m not done, she said. But she came.
I’m so demanding, aren’t I? Always dragging her along, but mad when she wants to pull me, just wanting to walk faster, sniff harder, leave more messages for the neighborhood dogs.
“It’s beautiful out, isn’t it Lil?” I said.
I like the smells.
The sky was cool, icy blue, like a white sheet of paper splashed pale-blue azure. The morning sparkled and the harbor glowed a hot bright yellow. Boats made curves in the water, their wakes like the lines of a paintbrush, swooped gently around as the motor engines turned them, pulling the boats east, out to fish.
“Good girl,” I said to Lil. She was trotting up beside me and we made our turn at the end of the loop, heading toward home. Lily said she was tired, but she was good. She’s getting older now.
It’s comforting to have a companion in her, someone who needs the exercise, even longs for it. She loves being out in the open, checking her mail, responding, taking in the world and keeping a steady pace.
It’s good to find habits that keep us going. Lily was a good walker today. She kept me going.